California Appeals Court: Retailers Must Provide Disabled Access

August 6, 2008

The Court of Appeal of California has ruled that a retailer must remove architectural barriers that prohibit disabled individuals from accessing merchandise, or must adopt alternative methods for making its merchandise available to disabled individuals by customer service or other means.

According to court documents in Californians for Disability Rights v. Mervyn’s LLC, CDR sued Mervyn’s department stores for maintaining narrow pathways between merchandise display racks that block shoppers with wheelchairs and other mobility aids from reaching the merchandise.

The trial court found the 15 percent to 20 percent of Mervyn’s merchandise was unacessible, but conclused that the removal of access barriers was not “readily achievable, and thus not legally mandated,” because the stores would lose a significant amount of selling space and profit. In a nine-month field test of six stores that were respaced with a 32-inch clearance for all vertical pathways between merchandise display units, stores lost at approximately $1 million. Thus, Mervyn’s chief financial officer calculated that if the test spacing criteria were expanded to all California stores, the result would be approximately $70 million in lost sales and $30 million in lost profit annually.

Meanwhile, the court also concluded that the department chain provided an acceptable alternative by making its merchandise available to disabled individuals in new and remodeled stores.

CDR appealed the judgment.And the court of appeal reversed the trial court judgment.

“We thus conclude that a physical arrangement of merchandise display racks that denies access to the disabled in stores constructed before 1993 should be evaluated as an architectural barrier under the ADA,” the appeal court wrote. Furthermore, the court said, “There is insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that Mervyn’s made its merchandise available through alternative methods to disabled individuals who were denied physical access. Mervyn’s failure to provide access by alternative methods constitutes a violation of the ADA, and thus a violation of both the Unruh Act and the DPA.”

The decision could establish a precedent for regulation how California retailers accommodate disabled consumers. CDR is said it is making progress toward resolution of the same issue in CDR v. Macy’s.

Source: California Courts, CDR

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